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( Originally Published 1933 )


Garden Violet, Florist's Violet

Violaceae Perennial

The sweet violet is no longer used as extensively as formerly in flavoring, but its fragrance and the aura of poetry about it entitle it to a place in every herb garden. Many varieties of the fragrant violets are hardy in northern gardens. The plant is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Root. The roots are rhizomatous, and the plant sends out runners which root.

Stem. The flower stems are radical, simple, uni-flowered, smooth, with several little bracts, about four or six inches high. The leaf stems are concave or hollow in front and rounded at the back, and one leaf is borne on each stem.

Leaf. The leaves are radical, long-petioled, heart or palmately shaped, with almost even, round indentations along the margins, sometimes slightly pointed at the tips, green and covered with tiny hairs. They measure two inches across at the widest point and one and one-third inches in length.

Flower. The flowers are borne on stems coming directly from the roots, and are partly hidden under the leaves. They are nodding, a deep violet, have five over-lapping petals, two lower and three upper ones, and a heel. Their fragrance is the typical violet scent, pervasive, poetic, and never to be forgotten, but when the cut flowers are old they smell vilely.

Variety. There are white, pale lavender, pink, single, and double varieties.

Seed. The seed is in a capsule with three concave valves containing a number of yellowish-brown, rounded seeds.

In Italy and the French Riviera a very fragrant variety with pale blue flowers, the Violette de Parme, is cultivated. This variety is not hardy.


Homer, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny mention the violet as the favorite fragrant flower, and it has always been regarded as the emblem of modesty and humility. Ibn Al Awam says that loud thunder weakens the plants and causes them to be spotted with stars. Ibn Baithar says the fresh flowers put in a compress stop head-ache and that the dried plant weakens the heart, troubles the soul, and causes fright. In the Middle Ages in South Germany, the finding of the first violet was a cause for rejoicing and festivities. It was tied to a stake as a symbol of the coming of spring, and young and old danced around it and sang. There were recipes for conserves, vinegars, honey, and cakes of violets in the old cook books. Prince lists Viola odorata and many blue and white ones, and Bartram lists Viola odorata and Viola var. flore pleno in 1807.


It is used technically as a dye.

Medicine. It is not important, although a syrup of violets is sometimes given as a mild laxative.

Perfume. The double purple and double blue varieties are the ones cultivated for their perfume, says Sawyer. The violet scents pomades, soaps, toilet waters, and per-fumes. A pure violet extract is rare, being generally composed of a tincture of orris root, which resembles the violet as closely as the rose geranium does the rose.


In my garden the violets grow both in the rocks and in beds in partial shade. They increase very rapidly from runners and make charming ground covers. They are said to like a chalky soil. In the south of France, where they are grown for their perfume, they are planted under orange, lemon, and olive trees; in the north, if violets are planted in a cold frame protected with glass, they will flower all winter.

Harvest. To dry them the petals are separated from the calyces and dried indoors. They should be kept in an air-tight place, as dampness has a bad effect on their color. The plants are said to yield the most the second and third years.

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